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Price of preemie-preventing drug to skyrocket: Who will pay?

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(CBS/AP) ATLANTA - The price of prematurity is going up - way up.

For years, a drug given to high-risk pregnant women to prevent premature births has cost $10 to $20 per injection. Next week, the price shoots up to $1,500, meaning the total cost during a pregnancy could be as much as $30,000.

The drug, a form of progesterone given as a weekly shot, has been made cheaply for years, mixed in special pharmacies that custom-compound treatments that are not federally approved. But KV Pharmaceutical recently won government approval to exclusively sell the drug, known as Makena (Mah-KEE'-Nah). The March of Dimes and many obstetricians supported that because it means quality will be more consistent and it will be easier to get.

It seems no one anticipated the dramatic price hike.

"That's a huge increase for something that can't be costing them that much to make. For crying out loud, this is about making money," said Dr. Roger Snow, deputy medical director for Massachusetts' Medicaid program.

Doctors say the price hike may deter low-income women from getting the drug, leading to more premature births. And it will certainly be a financial burden for health insurance companies and government programs.

On Tuesday, the drug's marketer - a KV subsidiary called Ther-Rx Corp. - announced a patient assistance program designed to help uninsured and low-income women get the drug at little or no cost.

But Snow and others said someone is going to have to pay the higher price. Some of the burden will fall on insurance companies, which will have to pass along costs to their customers. And some will fall on cash-strapped state Medicaid programs.

Children born very prematurely often need months of intensive care. Many suffer disabilities. The cause of sudden preterm delivery is not understood, but it occurs in black mothers at much higher rates than whites or Hispanics.

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